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Understanding Hostile Work Environment Discrimination

West Virginia employment lawyerThe West Virginia Record reported recently on the case of a Hispanic man who is suing the local fire department for unlawful employment discrimination. He was employed by the fire department between October 2012 and January 2015, during which time he indicates he performed all of his work duties in an appropriate manner. However,  the man claims he has been subject to inappropriate and discriminatory treatment both in his daily work environment and in the terms and conditions of his employment.

When employees are subjected to inappropriate and demeaning comments at work due to their race, or as a result of any other protected status such as their religion or gender, they are claiming they have been subject to a specific type of discrimination called hostile work environment discrimination. Victims of hostile work environment discrimination can pursue claims against companies when and if certain conditions are met.

The Hispanic man in this particular case claims he was called various names on a regular basis on the job, including “papi,” “terrorist,” “criminal,” “Mexican,” and “Cuban.” All of these are names which are based upon his ethnic origins. He claims he found the language used to describe him and the name calling against him to be offensive.

Calling someone derogatory names, making jokes at their expense, posting materials in a worksite which are designed to denigrate someone, and otherwise making someone feel uncomfortable as a result of their protected status are all classic examples of hostile work environment discrimination. In this case, the Hispanic man claims it was not only his co-workers who engaged in this type of abusive behavior, but also board members, managers, and directors. Even if it is only co-workers and peers, however, companies can still sometimes be held accountable for allowing a hostile work environment to exist.

One key criteria in whether a hostile work environment claim exists centers around what the company did, if anything, to respond to and stop the abusive behavior the employee was experiencing. Generally, in order for a company to be held accountable for a hostile work environment, the victimized employee must have reported the behavior and the employer must have failed to take appropriate action to stop the abusive treatment of the worker.

However, employees must have been provided with a reasonable path to reporting the discriminatory treatment, or else the employer cannot use an employee’s failure to report as a defense.  In this particular case, the employee claims he did not report the abusive behavior because his supervisors and department managers were also engaging in the offensive conduct.

If those who are supposed to be in charge are engaging in hostile work environment discrimination, there is no one to report to and an employee can generally pursue a claim for discrimination, even if he didn’t officially alert the company to the problems he was facing at his job.


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